Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Hannah. Hannah Wonders, “What is smokejumper” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Hannah!
If a building catches fire in your town, firefighters come to put out the fire. They drive a special truck called a fire truck. But what about when a big fire happens in the wilderness? Have you ever WONDERed how they put out the fire when it’s far away from town?
Some forests and wilderness areas can be far from towns and cities. What happens if a fire starts in a forest and the nearest town is miles away? What if there aren’t any roads for firefighters to drive a fire truck to the scene?
People were worried about what would happen if there were a fire in a faraway place. So they came up with a new way to fight wildfires—over 70 years ago—called smokejumping . Smokejumpers are firefighters who jump out of airplanes and use parachutes to land in the wilderness to fight fires. It’s a very dangerous job and considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
A man named T.V. Pearson, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service, had an idea in 1934. He believed the best—and fastest—way to attack remote fires was to fly firefighters to a position near the fire. Then they could parachute in and be ready to fight a fire without having to walk a long way through rough terrain.
Smokejumping trials began in 1939 in Washington’s Methow Valley. They had people jump into several types of forests and rugged land to prove that it could be done.
The next year, they started using smokejumping in Winthrop, Washington, and Ninemile Camp, Montana. On July 12, 1940, Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley made the first real fire jump at Rock Pillar near Marten Creek in Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest.
Nowadays, well-trained smokejumpers can get to wildfires in remote places soon after they start. If they can get there before the fire gets too big, they can fight it before it becomes a danger to the public.
Other countries besides the United States—including Russia, Mongolia, and Canada—use smokejumpers. Russia has the most. They employ several thousand more than any other country.
Airplanes drop smokejumpers near a fire. Then, the planes drop—by parachute—firefighting supplies, food, and water nearby. They use these supplies to set up camps they’ll live in for the next few days while they fight a wildfire.
There are hundreds of well-trained smokejumpers who work at different places owned by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management in places like Alaska, Idaho, California, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. They help fight fires across the country in remote areas. They’re very important for the whole country.
They have a tough job. It is hard work, jumping out of airplanes, parachuting into forests, and fighting fires. The best smokejumpers are in great physical and mental shape, can think for themselves, and react quickly to things that happen suddenly.
Smokejumpers get special training, which helps them stay safe when they’re fighting fires. They’re just as safe as ground-based wilderness firefighters. Smokejumpers are very careful, so they don’t get hurt very often, and it’s rare for them to get hurt badly or die.
Do you think you could be a smokejumper? Why or why not? Do you think this would be a scary job? We are thankful for smokejumpers and the way they fight wildfires!